Across the river, and two foothills over from the base of Shadow Mountain, sat the town of Evercaster. The town was rarely visited by anyone or anything other than the mountain’s shadow, which is how the mountain got its name. Any traveler who ever traveled through Evercaster described the town as picturesque. The wood-shingled exteriors of its riverside homes were painted the bright colors of fall, and oil lamps lit its streets during the dark hours of night. Forest trees spread down from the mountainside and through the valley, creating a patchwork of canopies over the town. It would have been a peaceful town, full of peaceful people doing peaceful things, if not for the spell cast over its children by the Shadow Mountain Witch.
The Shadow Mountain Witch, as she was so named by the townsfolk of Evercaster, lived off a rocky path along a rocky cliff, halfway up the rocky edge of Shadow Mountain. No one in Evercaster knew who she was or where she came from, but she lived there just the same. On a clear night when the trees were laid bare by winter’s frost, if the townsfolk looked just right, they could make out the faint flicker of fire burning beneath her black cooking cauldron.
The witch never came down from Shadow Mountain. Instead, the naive and unsuspecting would visit her. Those who sought her out for charms and spells often found themselves worse for the trip. The spells she cast seemed to create the very opposite of what her patrons wanted, which left them wishing they had never made the journey. Such was the story of the parents in Evercaster.
The parents in Evercaster loved their children. They loved them so deeply and so dearly that they never wanted them to make a mistake. They believed that if their children avoided making mistakes, then their children would become “in- blended.” In Evercaster, becoming in-blended was the goal that every parent had for every child. Being in-blended guaranteed friends, a job, and a family. It was what every child in Evercaster strived to become. Any time the children in Evercaster made a mistake they risked becoming “out-blended.” Becoming out- blended was the opposite of what every parent wanted for every child. Being out-blended ended friendships, took away jobs, and divided families. It promised a life-long seclusion, with the exception of a few imaginary friends and some domesticated forest animals. It was what every child in Evercaster strived to avoid.
So deep was their parents’ love and so great was their parents’ fear, that one night, under a full harvest moon, the parents visited the Shadow Mountain Witch. They asked her for a spell that would keep their children from making mistakes. They wanted something that would prevent their children from becoming out-blended. At first, the witch refused, but the parents of Evercaster begged and pleaded until she finally agreed to cast a spell.
She threw some things into her cauldron, read a passage from a dusty old book, and clapped her hands together in the air. The ground beneath them shook, as from the cauldron arose wisps of smoke that reached through the air and grabbed a feathery quill from a table. The smoke lifted the quill into the air as if cradled between one’s fingers and dipped it into a bottle of ink. Then it pressed the quill’s tip against a piece of parchment lying on the table beside it. No one knew how much time passed before the quill floated back down to the table, but in its brief moment of animation, it wrote something that changed the lives of Evercaster’s children forever. Slowly, and with hesitation, the parents gathered around the table to see what had been written. There, lying before them, written by an unseen hand from the spell of the Shadow Mountain Witch, was “The List.”
The witch explained to the parents that The List would keep their children in line, and if they followed it closely, they should turn out just fine. After the ink dried, the witch rolled up The List and tied it tightly with twine. Then she handed The List to the parents of Evercaster, who thanked her for her time. Just as they were about to walk out the door, the witch gave them a warning.
The spell of The List could be broken by an “off-tract.” An off-tract, she told them, was something that happened unexpectedly or was not on The List. An off-tract could infect the way a child sees, the way a child hears, and the way a child acts. If a child created an off-tract before finishing The List, the spell of The List would be broken and the child would become out-blended. The parents were a bit unnerved by the spell’s frailty, but were assured by the witch that the spell would hold strong as long as their children did nothing wrong. After she ushered them out of her home, The List was brought down the mountain, through the woods, and across the river to the children of Evercaster.
–Excerpt taken from “Tales for Your Monkey’s Mind.” Purchase the book here to read the rest of the story!